​Brazil's first online bank ramps up innovation

A year after launching its API platform, Banco Original is driving new initiatives related to artificial intelligence and data analytics
Written by Angelica Mari, Contributing Writer

Brazil's first online bank is working on new innovation initiatives as challenger institutions enter the market to provide services to a tech-savvy customer base.

Banco Original launched its retail banking operation in 2016 as an entirely digital bank supported by a robust infrastructure platform, in a distributed, high performance environment.

According to the bank's chief information officer (CIO) Wanderley Baccalà, Banco Original's technology portfolio sits on an architecture based on systemic interaction and access availability. This in turn provides an advantage over traditional banks struggling with legacy portfolios.

"We exploit everything that the Internet can offer, especially the possibility to 'be everywhere at all times'," the CIO says.

To execute the bank's IT strategy, the CIO leads an in-house team of 150 people working across the architecture, digital channels and Agile development areas, as well as new product prototyping and projects to support daily operations.

Evolving open banking

Open banking is at the top of the IT team's priorities. Original's API platform, a market first in Brazil and launched just over a year ago, has yielded "fantastic" results so far.

"We invest a lot in our open banking platform as we believe that clients will increasingly use the bank within apps in the market and in an integrated way to the environments they are in, such as Facebook and Instagram," Baccalà points out.

Through its open banking platform, Original developed a Facebook chatbot, as well as access to customers' balances and bank statements via Facebook and Instagram - also a first in the Brazilian banking sector.

"We believe that the bank needs to be where the customer is, and APIs are what enables the expansion of banking across various devices and platforms to make people's lives easier," the CIO says.

Enhancing AI and analytics

Other key IT priorities at Original are focused on the improvement of digital channels supporting financial products and services.

"We aim to always think of [new offerings] in an innovative and unique manner, in order to make the customer experience simple and effective," the CIO says.

To achieve that goal, Original is "investing heavily" in artificial intelligence, according to Baccalà. The idea here is to boost customer service effectiveness and improve user experience across the bank's channels.

"We have ramped up the use of robo-advisors for financial services and will soon have news on that front," the executive adds.

In addition, the bank is driving a number of projects around data analytics, to enable customers to get access to products and services in real-time. Blockchain is another area Original is "studying intensively."

Lessons to CIOs

Original is a pure-play online bank ,so dealing with new ventures is easier - but Baccalà believes that it is also possible for established high street banks to work with startups delivering innovative services without being outpaced by them.

"The first thing to have in mind is to ensure that an open and technological platform allows other new companies to connect to the bank easily," Baccalà says.

The CIO points out that there are opportunities to work together effectively with fintechs, an example being Original's partnership with digital wallet startup Pic Pay that integrates with its cross-account transfer API.

However, the executive says that the most important points that those in charge of IT in banking should bear in mind when dealing with startups are to do with culture.

"People need to be able to think outside the box, always place customers first be open minded to the digital economy," Baccalà says.

"CIOs also have to be closer to the business and have a deep knowledge of the environment in which they are involved - only then they will be able to fully employ their technical skills," he adds.

"You also need to talk to people who think differently, and for that to happen multidisciplinary teams are crucial, with product, channel, commercial, operations and security specialists, as well as the IT team itself."

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